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When Can New Yorkers Expect General Election Results? City and State Officials Give Different Answers


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New Yorkers soon head to the polls (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


The 2020 general election results in New York City may not be known until mid-December, six weeks after Election Day, according to Michael Ryan, the executive director of the New York City Board of Elections.

Ryan told members of the New York City Council Friday that New Yorkers could expect election results between December 8 and 15, around the same length of time it took in the primaries but ages beyond the unofficial results New Yorkers have come to expect on election night. The timeline means certified results will come just in time for the Electoral College to formally select the next president by the mid-December deadline.

"We have to complete certification in order for the electors in the Electoral College [to vote], so I would say in the December 8 to December 15 range." Ryan said at an oversight hearing Friday in response to questions from members of the Council's Committee on Governmental Operation.

"But we're already working on all of that and the idea is to try to get it done as quickly as we possibly can. We don't want to play brinkmanship," he said.

The Electoral College is set to formally elect the president on December 14.

State regulators said Ryan's projection misses the deadline to certify results set in New York's election law by about two weeks.

"I will simply remind the city board that the statutory deadline for completing the canvass is November 28," said Douglas Kellner, co-chair of the State Board of Elections, which has oversight power over local boards, in his testimony later in the Council hearing.

"I point out that that's the Friday after Thanksgiving and the state board has made it very clear that the counties must gear up to meet that," he added.

As was the case in the June primaries, finding out the winners will take weeks due to the high volume of absentee voting expected in the general election. On the ballot this year along with president and vice president are races for all of New York’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and both houses of the State Legislature, among other state and local offices.

Traditionally, local boards of elections have been able to confidently publish "unofficial" results on election night, a tally of all the in-person votes cast. In a typical New York election, these account for a vast majority of votes, with official results released later once a relatively small number of military, overseas, absentee, and affidavit ballots are counted. But with absentee voting expanded to all registered voters due to the coronavirus pandemic, mailed ballots could make up nearly half the total ballots. In New York City, the BOE is anticipating as many as 1 million absentee votes, Ryan said.

Absentee and other mailed-in ballots take more time to be counted. Along with other requirements, officials must crosscheck each ballot with those received at each of New York State's 62 county boards of elections to ensure that no absentee voter voted at a poll site -- any in-person vote nullifies a mailed vote.

There are some steps administrators can take to try to speed up ballot canvassing (the actual counting of votes), but they are limited by statutory requirements.

One method is to maximize the number of ballots cast in person, which can be tallied almost immediately by ballot scanning machines at each poll site, but which in the pandemic comes with some health risk, especially for the most vulnerable populations. The BOE and other city agencies have been promoting early voting as an option for in-person voting that does not carry as much risk of exposure to COVID-19 as a crowded poll site would. There will be eight days of early voting offered from October 24 through November 1; Election Day is November 3.

The New York City Board of Elections has also purchased ballot counting machines for each borough, which have the capacity to digitally scan and copy two-sided ballots and ballot envelopes. The technology will save hundreds of BOE staff person-hours typically required to make photocopies of ballot material to be used as evidence in court challenges. The scanners mean more efficiency in handling ballot challenges and more personnel and space available for canvassing.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Business Association Calls on Mayor to Launch 'Open Stores' Program to Help City's Struggling Retail Sector


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Mayor de Blasio at a press conference (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Though New York City has begun a slow march towards economic recovery, many small businesses, including retailers deemed non-essential, are still struggling to stay afloat as sales have decreased and customers are reluctant to return. While a great deal of focus has been on the city’s extensive restaurant industry, other small businesses are seeking a lifeline from city government. In a letter sent on Wednesday to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council, the New York City Business Improvement District Association proposed a relatively simple solution to the problem that would give retailers access to public space mirroring the city’s outdoor dining program.

The BID Association represents 76 BIDs, which are made up of commercial tenants and property owners who work to improve the business environment in designated neighborhoods across the city. According to the BID Association website, through member fees BIDs provide more than $120 million in services such as sanitation, maintenance, marketing, and beautification each year for more than 85,000 businesses.

Modelling its plan after the city’s Open Restaurants program, the BID Association is calling on the city to allow storefront retailers to use sidewalk space to sell their goods and to participate in the Open Streets program under the same rules as restaurants that have been allowed to set up dining space on roadways near their establishments. The letter calls on the mayor to sign an emergency executive order that would suspend certain rules and fees, and allow stores to display signage and merchandise and sell items within three feet of the storefront, including on streets that currently allow no sidewalk displays.

“The launch of such a program will allow the City’s countless struggling storefront retail and other businesses to reach customers using outdoor space in a safe way moving forward,” the letter reads. “If the City does not act quickly, we risk additional permanent closures of small businesses, particularly in the outer boroughs, including significant percentages of MWBE and immigrant-owned businesses. We have only a few more weeks before winter hits to roll-out and ramp up this program in time for the holiday shopping season, so there is no time to spare.”

After months of a painful economic lockdown, retail sales across the country have recovered somewhat and have seen increases in the last two months. According to Census data released September 16, advance monthly retail sales increased in August by $537.5 billion or 0.6% after increasing by 0.9% in July. Overall, sales from June through August were actually up 2.4% over the same period in 2019.

But in New York City, where the cost of doing business is already substantial in the best of times, the resumption of in-store retail after months of pick-up or online-only shopping hasn’t been enough to stave off ruin. Jennifer Tausig, co-chair of the BID Association and executive director of the Jerome Gun Hill BID in the Bronx, said people still don’t feel safe coming into stores despite the many restrictions that retailers have to abide by including social distancing and limited capacity.

An Open Stores program could help drive up foot traffic and increase sales, she said, particularly as retailers plan for the upcoming holiday season. Other cities like Boston and San Francisco have implemented similar programs. “We've seen the success of open dining. That's been a real lifeline for restaurants. It’s not enough to keep them going long term, but it has been a lifeline for the summer for sure. We're really asking that our small businesses have the same opportunity,” Tausig said.

Tausig said the BID Association has been pushing for this plan for months and while city agencies have been receptive, there has been no word from the mayor. She said the administration hasn’t been paying enough attention to the plight of storefront retailers, even as the mayor has taken steps to limit enforcement on street vendors. “We're having a hard time drawing people into the store, and yet there's lots of other people outside selling goods, whether legally or illegally, and we’re just feeling a little bit left out of the party,” she said.

Mayor de Blasio's office did not respond to a request for comment on the BID Association's ask. A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, "Open Streets and Open Restaurants have been major successes in terms of the city's response to the pandemic, and the Council is open to helping retail businesses in similar fashion where possible. We will review this proposal as part of our continued efforts to aid our city's economic recovery."

On Thursday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos wrote to de Blasio asking him to extend the city's Open Streets program "year-round for pedestrians, cyclists, and restaurants and expand the program to allow the City’s small business and retail community to offer more goods and services outside."

What worries Tausig is that businesses are seeing their rent bills build up as their sales plummeted. Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has extended a commercial eviction moratorium, businesses will still eventually have to contend with months of back rent. “I think there is a real concern for a lot of small businesses that without some sort of plan, some sort of lifeline, that once that moratorium is lifted, that's going to be a wrap for them.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated with the response from the City Council, the lack of response from the de Blasio administration, and the letter by Stringer and Ramos.

What's The [Data] Point? 20,000 - Industry City Rezoning Negotiations Fall Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball & City Council Member Carlos Menchaca


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Council Member Menchaca and others tour part of Industry City (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 96: 20,000 - The Industry City Rezoning Proposal Falls Apart, with Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

Industry City CEO Andrew Kimball and City Council Member Carlos Menchaca joined the show to discuss the demise of the Industry City rezoning proposal, which Kimball spent years working on and Menchaca opposed. What happened and what's next?

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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